Guilty: Firm discriminated against employee with mental disability

by Stephanie Zillman12 Nov 2012

Brand damage, a $17,805 payout and lengthy Fair Work proceedings are the result of a wrongful termination of a worker with a mental disability.

Accountancy firm Bush and Campbell Pty Ltd has agreed to pay $17,805 to a former long-serving accountant for loss of wages and compensation for the “stress, hurt, humiliation, embarrassment and injury to feelings” she suffered as a result of the discrimination.

Bush and Campbell admitted it treated the employee “unfairly” after she advised her employer that she had been diagnosed with depression.

In its letter of apology to the former employee, who worked for the accountancy firm for more than 10 years preparing and producing income tax returns and financial statements, the company admitted it contravened workplace laws when it:

  • Dismissed the employee in May, 2010 because of her mental disability and her workplace right to have reasonable adjustments made to accommodate her disability,

  • Injured the employee by refusing her earlier request for a support person in performance reviews and other meetings, and

  • Discriminated against her and other employees, in particular by excluding her from attending training sessions because of her mental disability and workplace right.

As a result of signing an Enforceable Undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman as an alternative to litigation, Bush and Campbell will also spend $6,000 over the next two years on workplace relations advice and training for its directors and business manager to ensure they understand the rights and responsibilities of employers under the Fair Work Act, specifically in relation to discrimination and termination of employment.

Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson commented that every employee is entitled to a workplace free of unlawful discrimination, and issued a reminder to employers that everyone has the right of complaint in the workforce, and there are strong protections provided for people who do complain.

“Allegations made to the Fair Work Ombudsman about discrimination in the workplace are concerning and where they fall within our jurisdiction, we will investigate them, and where appropriate, we will take action,” he said. Wilson added the best advice he can give to managers is to do unto others as you would have them do to you. “As we age, our demographics change and Australia’s workplaces become increasingly diverse, there can be no place for telling people they have to go because they are pregnant or because they are perceived as past retirement age or because their language or religion doesn’t fit with yours … and there can be no place for tolerance of sexual or other harassment.”

Wilson commented there is never just one way to achieve compliance with workplace laws, and education and positive motivators are extremely important.

Fair Work inspectors can investigate allegations of discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy, race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer responsibilities, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.


  • by Anon 12/11/2012 3:22:11 PM

    Really? $17K for the pain and suffering the organisation put this woman through? I am not sure whether this sends the right message to employers.

  • by Jo 12/11/2012 4:17:17 PM

    What might be some of the "reasonable adjustments" you could explore to accommodate depression or bi-polar?

  • by Jasm 12/11/2012 4:25:34 PM

    I agree with Anon, at the settlement amount, it's pathetic and degrading, and also the thin consequences on that organisation. A huge reason why most bullying and discrimination cases don't get reported. The victims are never really compensated or rehabilitated after all the distress , embarrassment, pain and suffering caused. They are hardly protected by the organisation, most are treated like a disease that must be forced to dismiss their accusation, or learn to live with it , as the accused is never confronted about their inappropriate behaviour, or simple leave the organisation, so there is no case to resolve for HR/organisation. Great example to set for those bullies, or unfair organisations - no consequence, many times they are actually further protected, and the best case I have seen is the accused is then promoted, a clear sign, just continue to behave the same way mate! The vicious cycle begins and more victims awaiting the same curse! The frightening part is the lack of understanding whether deliberate or not from our community and organisations of how serious the effects of bullying and discrimination has on some victims, sorry to frightened people but reality is, it can lead to depression, more serious mental illness, isolation, unemployment and the worst - suicide. Yes suicide. So when you think of a settlement payment, its much more than the dollar value. The policy and procedures for bullying and discrimination are not worth the paper they are printed on. The accused in most cases are never pulled up for their inappropriate behaviour, sadly some bullies, don't know they are causing distress or the effects. simply no real consequence, so it won't stop and its still happening to innocent victims every day. There wouldn't be work place law firms otherwise. Apologies ahead of time if some decent HR people are offended, you are a rare breed. Or the Fair Work Australia, Ombudsman etc, etc, we have just not seen any changes that are of benefit to the victims. Organisations, especially the corporates, have a clever legal team to protect them from litigation. They also know how expensive it is for victims, so I ask, where is the fairness and protection for our future victims? I don't have the answers, like I wait in hope for the cure of Cancer, I will for this.....

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